‘I arrived in Christchurch after a long windswept journey from Wellington, through Picton and Blenheim. The crossing of the cook straight was delayed for (although we didn’t know it at the time), four days due to extreme storm conditions, forcing myself, Irina and Sven (two German friends I made in Hasting, Hawkes Bay), to occupy ourselves further in Windy Wellington. Two nights were spent in the hostels of the notoriously wet and windy down town Wellington, and for the benefit of this story I can tell you that on this particular week the weather certainly held up to its reputation, making the prospect of even going to go to the adjacently parked car for some item of clothing, maybe some underpants from my bloated suitcase an almost impossible, deadly operation that took all the speed and grit determination of the SAS to perform. The next two nights were spent sleeping in the somewhat un-luxurious Nissan Bluebird, with the impending operation of another cigarette outside in the bighting night air looming as a constant worrying mission. Finally waking the fourth and final morning on Mt Victoria, sat upright in the passenger seat of the unkempt Nissan, fully clothed and wrapped in an equally fatigued sleeping bag, I and my German comrades set off to catch our 7am cold and rather rough ferry voyage across the Cook Strait to Picton. After the dull three hour crossing, mocked by the fittingly dire movies to entertain the horde of people who had like us been waiting days for the journey, we set forth on the long and winding drive to Christchurch, down the east coast of the island strewn with rough volcanic rocks, odd weather, seals and the constantly impending possibility the route through the mountains may be closed at any time, and then finally arrived at the spacious and thankfully warm Coachman’s rest Backpackers, Christchurch.
Now many people will tell you that Christchurch is easily the most English settlement in New Zealand, and from the very first moment I could see their point: as I wandered through the beautiful botanic gardens, I found myself following the River Avon, surrounded on either side by Oxford and Cambridge Terraces. The gardens themselves are a gardener's dream, with a water garden, a rose garden, a pinetum, a Primula garden, a daffodil woodland, a cherry collection, an herbaceous border, a fragrant garden, a conservatory complex, a New Zealand garden, a rock garden and more... they're certainly comprehensive. All this is surrounded by huge swathes of park, a smattering of art museums , a city tram (operated by a very smart Victorian gentleman), a statues one of which is of Queen Victoria, there are also some very posh schools, and right in the centre of town is Cathedral Square, home to the beautiful gothic cathedral with a huge spire, the top of which is made of copper after the original stone one fell into the square during an earthquake.
Being English it was a bit strange, seeing red telephone boxes, school children in blazers and boaters, people punting down the Avon, trees like weeping willows, oaks and sycamores, and street names that are almost entirely based on roads in England... but every now and then you look through the trees and spot a tussock-covered hill in the distance, something that wouldn't crop up in the sort of English countryside that would be home to a city like Christchurch.
I found great frustration when asked by my Deutsch friends whether this was like England, and found myself not quite sure what to answer; ‘maybe about 100 years ago, but with Starbucks and Subway sandwiches’, I thought. Perhaps that's why Christchurch, beautiful though it is, doesn't quite convince; almost like a film set or a theme park version of Britain, though I must say without the tackiness. But you don’t go travelling to merely find a place that is or maybe was trying to imitate where you come from, so for another from a different location of the globe Christchurch may seem most unique and fully inspiring. As you watch the bus loads of Asian, French, German and South American travellers disembark camera in hand you can see that this is true. Maybe this is a more approachable England for a foreigner, England where you can arrive from another country, be welcomed, find cheap accommodation on ever street corner, get a job and travel on without hindrance. Christchurch was one of the most unique places I travelled in New Zealand, one of the friendlier, well kept and one of the wealthier, yet I don’t feel a massive pull to go back there like I do with maybe Queenstown, Arrowtown, Nelson or Hastings, and I wonder why?’ [more ]